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Are you ready to learn about solo travel to Cambodia? Now Cambodia may not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think of solo travel in Asia (Thailand is the most popular, for sure), but this country should certainly be on your bucket list – especially if you love temples and historical sites.
Cambodia’s lovely welcoming people, along with the vast number of backpacker accommodation available to travelers, and it’ prime location on the Southeast Asia circuit make the country an ideal destination for solo travellers.
However, it’s important to be honest in these guides.
Remember: Solo Travel in Cambodia Can Be Hard
Be warned – it’s not as easy to travel in Cambodia as nearby Thailand! Not even close.
There are a few reasons why solo travel in Cambodia isn’t exactly a simple trip, and therefore, best handled by experienced travelers who already have a few adventures under their belts. And always book your travel insurance.
First of all, not much English is spoken in Cambodia. Transportation is also challenging at times. For instance, roads can be very dirty and bumpy. The conditions are jarring if you don’t expect them ahead of time.
Furthermore, some travelers still class Cambodia as a Southeast Asian “Wild West” where every rule is thrown out of the window when it comes to safety!
However, the ease of finding friends, stunning temples, affordable accommodation and a wide range of activities clearly outweigh all the challenges of Cambodia. The Kingdom of Wonder is right at the top of my list of places to be.
Bring a good Lonely Planet Guide to Cambodia to make your trip a success.
Guide to Money in Cambodia
The strangest thing that I found about travelling in Cambodia was the money. Why? They use a dual currency system with both USD and Cambodian Riels readily accepted.
To complicate things further, you may pay for something in Dollars and receive change in Riels, so you need to know your conversion rates from the second that you land!
Just remember it’s roughly 4000 Riels to the dollar and therefore 2000 Riels is 50c (these amounts are accurate at the time of writing – January 2020).
The great news is that Cambodia is one of the most inexpensive countries in Southeast Asia. There really aren’t any big money saving tips here unless you go out of your way to find the most expensive things to see or do. Using Lonely Planet’s Guide to Southeast Asia will help you find the best things to do in the region for a small cost.
Accommodation, food and transportation are all very cheap here but, if you really like to save some pennies, here are some tips on how to save extra money in Cambodia.
Let’s take some notes:
Minimize Your Drinks
Each drink costs a dollar and before you know it, you’ve wasted more money on beer than on accommodation and food. There’s no reason why this country should cost you more than around $20 a day but if you drink a lot, you’ll need a higher budget. Cut back on the alcohol.
Don’t Book Anything in Advance
Don’t book any tours or activities before you get to your destination. They’ll be much cheaper when you arrive as you’ll be able to negotiate a lower price. Anything you see online is going to be more expensive than you need to pay in the country!
Eat out on the Street
You can pick up some tasty local food for cheap! Soups, street side snacks, and noodles will keep your wallet healthy. Markets are probably your best bet for finding seriously delicious and cheap food. Street stalls are the main diet of locals in this region and should be yours too. You can easily find a pork noodle dish for $1.
Bargain Really Hard
Nothing is ever sold at face value here. Bargain with the sellers as most of the time, the price that they’ve quoted is a lot higher. There’s a massive haggling culture in this region so be sure to play the game and save some money. You’ll never get the price the locals will, but you could come close.
What to Pack for Cambodia?
Solo travel in Cambodia is amazing, but you need to know what to bring ahead of time. These items will make travelling alone in Cambodia a million times easier for you!
Make sure to bring all these essential items on your solo trip to Cambodia.
1. A Sturdy Backpack
The first step to packing is picking a travel bag that’s best for you and your trip. Cambodia’s (often) uneven and dirt roads make backpacks perfect for traveling in this country, particularly if you plan on moving around a lot. Eagle Creek make wonderful 65L backpacks that are durable and high quality.
2. Walking Boots
Take some sturdy walking boots as there is a fair bit of trekking to do in Cambodia especially if you are exploring the hilltop temples. They will protect your feet from thorns and bites.
The clothing you wear in Cambodia greatly depends on the part of the country you’re visiting.
However, one thing is constant no matter where you are — the hot and humid weather.
There are two different seasons in Cambodia: dry and wet. Dry season normally runs from October to late April and wet season is from May to late September. No matter when you decide visit, you can presume you’ll be sweating the entire time. You’ll rarely see locals wearing skirts, shorts or tank tops. Instead, they’ll be in long pants and have their shoulders covered. Do the same.
If you do plan on visiting temples, you should be prepared to dress conservatively. Temple dress code is enforced quite strictly and people who aren’t dressed appropriately will be deprived of entry. To see the temples, you must have your knees and shoulders covered as a sign of respect.
Bugs are ever present in Cambodia. Mosquitoes will pester you until they’ve had their fill, and even then, you’ll still be bitten. Bring a high-quality bugspray to keep them away from you.
5. Reusable Water Bottle/LifeStraw
Tap water in Cambodia is not always safe to drink. I did drink the water from the hotel and didn’t get a stomach upset, but the ideal is bottled or filtered water. Solo travel in Cambodia is difficult enough without having a sudden bout of sickness!
Furthermore, constantly drinking from plastic water bottles is very wasteful and bad for the environment. What’s a solo traveler to do?
A good alternative to a water bottle with a UV light is a Life Straw. This handy tool filters water, making it safe to drink. It’s easy to pack and small, making it very practical for travelling.
This is a major item for Cambodia, and it will come in handy a lot more times than you can imagine. Sarongs are really versatile and can be used for many different purposes. Put it up and make a curtain, spread it out for a beach or picnic blanket, or tie it around your shoulders or waist for a more conservative outfit.
Where to Go in Cambodia: Top Destinations
1. Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s capital city was a pleasant surprise for me. It didn’t seem to feel as busy and polluted as other Asian capitals like Bangkok, yet it is competitive on the sightseeing. Make sure that you visit the Royal Palace (dress conservatively) and the Museum.
Also, although the Phnom Penh killing fields tour is a truly sad and depressing day out, it’s an essential tour that will give you an insight into Cambodia’s recent troublesome history under Pol Pot’s regime – the Khmer Rouge.
2. Siem Reap
The temples of Angkor Archaeological Park are massive! You’ll need a few days to satisfy your inner “Tomb Raider” and explore these ruins. I’d recommend that you think about getting the 3-day ticket to make the most of it. Don’t miss Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon.
Need more places for solo travel in Cambodia? Sihanoukville is not to be missed. Nearby deserted islands, white sand beaches, great diving, seafood, and a nightlife filled with inexpensive booze make this spot a favourite amongst travellers. It’s not a quiet place to hang out, but it’s a good place to drink or as a base to see the nearby islands. Head to Koh Rong for socialising and beach parties or Koh Rong Samloem for something more serene and relaxing.
4. Tonle Sap
Cruising down this river allows you to get a closer look at how Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. You can get a boat all the way down from one end to the other or just go around on a day trip. Tours cost around $3 per person.
There are some amazing things to do in Battambang – you’ll find great temples, a bamboo train, and stunning architecture. It’s Cambodia minus the tourism, for now! A visit to Sampeau Mountain will allow you to discover a killing cave, Buddhist Monastery and a bat cave – look out for the mass exodus of the bats from their cave at dusk. If you are looking for a relaxing journey, try getting a river boat back to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh for a unique experience (tickets are normally around $20 per person).
Top Tips for Solo Travel in Cambodia
- Carry plenty of crisp new $1 notes which will come in handy for food, buses and tuk-tuks.
- Use A SIM card for Data. Having a SIM card is essential for solo travelers in Cambodia. Why? Well, Cambodians will not always speak great English, so having data on your cell phone makes life a lot easier. You can show tuk-tuk drivers exactly where you need to go by putting in attractions or restaurants into Google Maps. It will only cost you $5 USD for a basic plan for travellers, allowing for 1.5gb. There are many smartphone shops everywhere, and they provide a reliable service.
- Avoid crossing the Cambodian border on the ground. Many travellers are attracted to the super cheap prices to bus into Cambodia via countries like Vietnam. The only issue is, the ground border is packed with corrupt officials. Even those who organised their visa before they arrived, end up getting scammed into buying it again. It’s very hard, they speak little English and may refuse to let you get away without paying what they ask.
- Download the GRAB and PASS app for ordering tuk-tuks and taxis. This will mean that you get reliable drivers and always know in advance how much you are going to pay.
- The Baby Milk Scam. Unfortunately, this beautiful country overflowing with wonderful people does have some scams operating. One of the most distressing is the baby milk scam, where scammers will go out every day to beg for milk for their baby. With persuasive eyes, they will call out, “I don’t want any money, I just want milk”, while shaking a bottle of baby milk. If you take the bait, the scammer proceeds to direct you to the convenience store, handily close by, who is also in on the scam. They will then make you buy the most expensive milk. After you buy the baby milk, the scammer gives back the milk to the store and gets a pay off, with the product going back on the shelf.
Ultimately, if you are into Asian culture, temple ruins and chilled out beaches then Cambodia is not to be missed. Solo travel in Cambodia will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. Enjoy!
About the Guest Poster:
Amy, AKA Templeseeker travels the world finding the most amazing temples and historical sites along the way. She has a BA in World Religions and an MA in South Asian studies from the University of Manchester. When she’s not blogging about Europe, Asia and the Middle East you will find her at home in Liverpool with her husband and Blake the Patterdale terrier!
Amy is a regular contributor to Blond Wayfarer. Check out her guide on adventuring around Tenerife!